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A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4708 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The setting begins with a sense of sadness and an overwhelming feeling that something horrible is about to happen. We are first introduced to Dave, a teenager of only We later find out that Dave’s mother is slowly deteriorating due to cancer, as Dave takes us through every excruciating detail of his mother’s painful journey, we learn that she isn’t the only one plague d with this horrible disease.The father, who has a long history of smoking and drinking, dies due to lung cancer, but manages to keep it a secret from his family.

Information/Details from the text:

• “factory”, plain, sterile, lifeless, not somewhere you’d voluntarily want to be

• Societal pressure is taking a toll on the Eggers’ family, especially Dave

•Dave’s anger and frustration towards the people of society for not truly understanding what his family is going through

• Dave fantasizes of gruesomely murdering the people who are fortunate enough to not be suffering through the pain of a loved one plagued with cancer

• Dave describes his mother as a strong willed women who is willing to fight for her family and “protect what she cares about” (pg 16)

•Dave says “our house sits on a sinkhole. Our house is the one being swept up in the tornado, the little train- set model house floating helplessly, pathetically around in the howling black funnel.” (pg 17)

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

Setting -As we are first introduced to this story, the author immediately starts off by describing the setting, which tells us just how important it is. This feeling that he envelops in readers in just the first few sentences leaves reader’s feeling uneasy and the sense that something bad is about to happen.

Plot -it reveals the conflict between Dave and the community as he feels his family is being watched constantly, their sense of privacy within the community is gone

Plot -the conflict with people in the society develops as Dave’s anger and frustration increases

Imaginative Characteristics -it shows Dave’s devotion to his family and how much he cares for them, he shows this by using imagery of murdering the people who know about their family’s situation in a humourous sick and gory way

Character Development (Dave) -he has an interesting way of describing his feelings towards his family, but it shows his true nature and personality– he is not afraid of expressing himself differently

Character Development(Dave’s mom) -she is a loving and caring mom who would put her family’s needs before her own and do whatever it takes to defend their safety and well-being

Imaginative Characteristics -uses imagery to help readers visualize the state of distress and catastrophe the family is going through

-of all houses it had to be theirs that was plagued with death and sadness and they have no control over it, waiting helplessly


•”Through the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic.” (pg 1)

• “But the family room, the only room where any of us has ever spent any time, has always been, for better or worse, the ultimate reflection of our true inclinations. It’s always been jumbled, the furniture competing, with clenched teeth and sharp elbows, for the honor of the Most Wrong-looking Object.” (pg 6)

• “Everyone knows. Everyone is talking. Waiting.” (pg14)

• “I have plans for them, the nosy, the inquisitive, the pitying; have developed elaborate fantasies for those who would see us as grotesque, pathetic, our situation gossip folder.” (pg 14)

• “I picture strangulations-Tsk tsk, I hear she’sgurgle!-neck breakings-what will happen to that poor little bo-crack!- I picture kicking bodies as they lie curled on the ground, spitting blood as they-Jesus Christ, Jesus fucking Christ, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!-beg for mercy….” (pg 14)

• “We are ready. We are not ready. People know.” (pg 17)


-This quote reveals the atmosphere which envelops the story for example, the yard described as “gray and scratchy” gives the impression that this is an uneasy and rather bland atmosphere

-The winter setting could represent the character, Dave’s feelings of being frozen, referring to time standing still

-It could also symbolize loss of hope or even death

-The trees are described as “calligraphic” which is a form of visual art, this could be interpreted as an unreal, dreamlike vision that Dave wishes he was seeing

-This quote reveals the state of chaos and confusion the family is in due to this horrible fate. Dave describes this feeling in reader’s when he says that the family room reflects the family’s state of being

-This quote reveals the surroundings of the Egger’s family, the pressure of society watching, observing their every move. Knowing that one day their family will break apart and they will be able to watch the destruction of this family.

-This quote reveals Dave’s emotional state at this point, his rage towards society, whether it be the people who are nosy and can’t help but get into others’ business or those who feel sorry for this family, whatever the reason Dave is enraged by these people.

-Perhaps they are giving him pressure by being watched or maybe Dave is jealous that these people don’t have to suffer through this horrible situation as well

-This quote reveals Dave’s sick humour, gory sense of imagination when it comes to describing his feelings about his family.

-It shows his devotion and genuine care for his family as he’s willing to do anything for them -he would kill for their own safety and protection

-Personality is very protective and

-This quote reveals the family’s emotional state of confusion and feelings of disorientation as they can are unsure of their state of mind in this situation

-This quote connects to the theme of death and loss because the Egger’s know that it’s just a matter of time before their mother breathes her last breath

Part II -Please look. Can you see us, ETC.

Short Summary:

After the sudden deaths of both parents, only five weeks apart, the three eldest children are left with custody of their younger brother, Toph. Dave and Beth decide to sell their home in Illinois, there are just too many memories and moments of happiness and sadness in that home that moving on would be impossible. They decide to move to California hoping to escape their dreadful past and start a new life, the three live under one roof. Since Dave graduated from college he devotes his entire summer to Toph trying to make up for the sadness in the previous winter. Meanwhile Beth prepares for law school and Kirsten, Dave’s girlfriend searches for a job. Dave finds it difficult to be fit in with society, as he is unsure what to call himself now, is he a mother, father, brother, or all of the above. At Toph’s little league game he tries to take on the role of “single mother” but realizes that he could never fit in like the other mothers and that he’ll always be different.

Information/Details from the text:

• Setting- the sublet that Dave, Beth, Kirsten and Toph live in is completely filthy, conflict between the three of them about hygiene

• The “whipping game” that Dave and Toph play where Toph pretends to be the child being abused and Dave the parent who is whipping him with the belt

• Dave calls the parents of Toph’s classmates

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-This state that their living in represents their inner chaos and confusion that they’re all going through as a result of their parents’ sudden deaths

-Reveals conflict building between the characters as they are put to the ultimate challenge of living together without parental aid and guidance

-This game reveals both of their emotions and their personality, they play this game for the amusement of pretending to be parent and child fighting when in fact they are truly taking on those roles

-Their personalities are both silly and outrageous as they find this game very amusing and fun

-He does this as a prank to other kid’s in Toph’s class who don’t fully understand Toph’s difficult situation and what he’s gone through so Dave teaches them a lesson by informing their parents of this behaviour


• “They worry for us. I worry for us. I worry that any minute someone-the police, a child warfare agency, a health inspector, someone– will burst in and arrest me, or maybe just shove me around, make fun of me, call me bad names, and then take Toph away.”

(pg 82)

•”We are always late, always half done. All school forms need to be sent twice, and I have to hand them in late.”

(pg 83)

• “They are scared. They are jealous. We are pathetic. We are stars. We are either sad and sickly or we are glamorous and new.” (pg 96)

• “But we!-we are great looking! We have style, which is messy, rakish, yet so intriguingly so, singular. We are new and everyone else is old.” (pg 96)

• “My goal, a goal I honestly


-This quote reveals the confusion and worry that Dave feels taking on the role of his parents so that Toph can live a life as normal as it can be

-This quote connects to the theme of loss as we are shown how difficult a time this was on all of their lives’ and how it’s beginning to affect them

-This quote reveals the unorganized disorientated state Dave is in as he is newly adjusting to parenthood, it shows us just how unready Dave was to take on this role

-At Toph’s open house they realize just how different they are from the rest, everyone is either a parent or child, no other. They stand out in either a good or bad way.

-Shows the drift between them and the society, they feel isolated because they are not the typical “family”

-Reveals Dave’s laid back unorganized style and how he chooses to raise Toph living under these conditions

Part III: The enemies list, ETC.

Short Summary:

They soon find out that living under one roof is not desirable or beneficial to either of them, so they decide to move into separate places. Beth and Kirsten find separate places in Berkley, while Dave and Toph move into a small house. We are introduced to Dave’s enemies list, which is based on girlfriends unfit to be an influence to Toph. Dave tries to find a way to incorporate Toph in as well, making sure he is always having fun. But if at any time Dave feels this person is unworthy of Toph’s presence they are automatically considered an enemy to him.

Information/Details from the text:

• Dave and Kirsten are taking a break which they’ve twice already, he explains that he could enjoy freedom and go out but instead he chooses to stay with Toph

•Enemies list Dave has made is based on Toph’s best intentions in mind, Dave no longer thinks that his own opinion about that person matters, as long as they are unfit to be around Toph, they are as well to him

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-Reveals how much Dave care’s for Toph, giving up his former socialite and partying scene for the single parent role

-Reveals theme of family, what Dave is willing to sacrifice for Toph’s benefit of growing up without people that are unfit to be near Toph


• “Beth and I are still thinking it’s too early to leave Toph with anyone but family that to do otherwise would cause him to feel unwanted and alone, leading to the warping of his fragile psyche…” (pg 106)

• “The no baby-sitter rule is only one of many, so so many, all necessary to keep this thing together, keep it from spinning out of control.” (pg 107)

• “As for my own dating, if I am going out on something like a date, and wee go out early, and the date involves an activity that Toph might enjoy, then of course Toph comes along” (pg 107)


-This quote reveals motivation for taking care of Toph and not wanting anyone else to do it but them

-Shows they have Toph’s best intentions at heart and that they have put a lot of thought into this decision

-Reveals their worries about leaving Toph with a stranger

-doesn’t want Toph to grow up losing more members of family than he already has

-Reveals Dave’s willingness to give up everything he had including dating to his new priority, Toph.

-He even incorporates him into his dates and tries to entertain Toph instead of the women he is dating at that point in time.

Part IV-Oh I could be going out, sure

Short Summary:

Dave is currently taking a break from dating Kristen. This gives Dave a chance to go out but is paranoid because he does not have a babysitter for Toph. Dave creates a set of rules to for any future girlfriend that he dates. All of these rules evolve around how Toph gets treated. Dave said that Beth and her group of friends are not allowed anywhere near Toph simply because her friends tend to talk about how they got drunk among other subject. Dave believes that if Toph is surrounded by Beth and her friends, Toph will learn their bad customs. Also, the “date person” would not try to “understand” Dave’s situation. By situation this means talking about Dave’s dead parents and trying to tell him that they understand.

Information/Details from the text:

•Rules regarding dating


What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-This reveals the theme of family since Dave does not want to date for Toph’s sake. Also, Dave makes a set of rules for himself if dating. These rules are to prevent Toph from seeing that Dave will date anybody.

-Dave worries when he leaves Toph with a babysitter. This is because Dave believes that the babysitter will do something wrong.


• “If the star of the something-like-a-date expresses any reservations about having Toph along, she is clearly a very bad person. If she thinks that because Toph is brought along to dinner, that it means I like her less, that he is serving as some kind of buffer, then she is misguided and self-centered and also a bad person. If when she comes over she questions anything about the state of the house-“Oh God, there’s food under the couch!” or even “Holy bachelor pad!”-or worse, any parental decisions made in her company or otherwise, she is first glared at in Toph’s presence, later lectured out of his earshot….. and how dare they say anything these people, these lotus-eating simpletons who have never known struggle, who would never question other parents” (pg 107-108)

• “You don’t have to carry this alone (pg 108).”


-Describes all the people Dave consider to be “very bad people to date” every characteristic of the reason for thinking they are bad is in consideration for Toph not Dave’s own reasons for disliking that person in particular

-He says these people are not able to understand their situation and comprehend the type of devotion and work it takes to care of a child

-It reveals that Dave’s world now revolves around Toph and what is beneficial to Toph’s life, not his own anymore

Part V -Outside it’s blue-black and getting darker, ETC.

Short Summary:

Toph’s new babysitter Stephen comes to take care of Toph. While Stephen is with Toph, Dave decides to take a break from home so he goes to this bar. At first, Dave is very relaxed at going out but then he starts to worry. In the bar he meets lots of friends in the bar including John who also lost his parents. Dave feels comfortable with his friends because it reminds him of the ties in Chicago. John starts to ask about Toph but Dave changes the subject because he doesn’t want to talk about him. Dave also meets this girl named Jenna. Dave starts to make up stories about his life. After he finishes his story he goes straight home because he is worried about Toph.

Information/Details from the text:

•Stepping away from being ” the parent”

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-In this section, we see that Dave is taking a break from staying home. After leaving Toph with a babysitter, although still worried, he leaves to go to a bar.


• “I’ve risked everything for this (pg 133)?”


-Dave says this while he is in the bar. He says this because he sees that everyone around him is relaxed and having a good time. Dave is not having fun because he is worried about Toph at home and whether or not the babysitter is taking care of him.

Part VI -When we hear the news at first

Short Summary:

A magazine is made with the help of Dave’s friends. The age range for the magazine is for twenty year olds. While working on the magazine, Dave wants to try out for a spot on the MTV show. MTV host wants to ask him how Dave’s life is and everything. These questions that are asked makes Dave think properly about his situation with everything that is going on about his life.

Information/Details from the text:

•Taking care of Toph

•Talking about his father and mother

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-While MTV is question we also start to understand what the character traits is for Dave.

-Near the end of the questioning, Dave starts to talk about his father and mother. Dave’s father used to get drunk and his mother used to hit him.


•”I am emboldened by youth, unfettered and hopeful, though inextricably tied to the past and future by my beautiful brother, who is part of both. Can you not see that we are extraordinary? That we were meant for something else, something more? All of this did not happened to us for naught, I can assure you – there is no logic to that, there is logic only in assuming that we suffered for a reason. Just give us our due (pg 236).”


-Near the end, Dave says he is extraordinary. This is because although he has suffered since his parents died, he is trying to be the best parent for Toph.

Part VII-Stupid show.

Short Summary:

Dave does not get picked for the show. Instead the show chooses Judd, a cartoonist. When Judd sends Mightmagazine a group of his cartoons and asks to be a contributor, Dave jumps at the chance to interviewhim, knowing that the show’s cameras would be required to follow him. Dave and his fellow editors have several meetings with Judd. The meetings are mundane and obviously contrived for the cameras, but they do manage to appear on one of the episodes of the show. Dave and his fellow editors decide to have another nude photo shoot, this time with the idea of showing how different everyone’s bodies are. More people agree to the shoot since Dave promises that their faces will not be shown and they can keep on their underwear.

Information/Details from the text:

• Dave trying to imagine Toph when he is older

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-Character is shown though this dialogue. When Dave imagines Toph to be older he wants Toph to be proud that Dave raised him properly.


• “I’ll never forget my brother, who tried so hard and suffering so long, lifted me over the heads of the throng to meet my destiny (page 291).”


-While imagining Toph becoming the president, Dave believes that Toph would say these words because he believes that Toph will become an idol when he grows up.

Part VIII-We can’t do anything about the excrement on the floor.

Short Summary:

In the midst of being kicked out of their office, Mightputs out an issue that includes editor-created awards for made-up celebrities. One of these “celebrities”is a musician that the television show, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?now wants to hire to be on their show. Amused by the misunderstanding, Mighteditors set up the appearance without telling the show’s producer their joke. Needless to say, the musician does not show up. Dave and Kirsten, who have been dating off and on since leaving Illinois, have finally broken up and Kirsten has moved to San Francisco. At this point, Beth has graduated from law schooland taken a job with a law firm in San Francisco. Beth decides to move in with Kirsten.

Information/Details from the text:

• Dave talking with Toph

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-This also reveals Dave’s growing character because Dave doesn’t want to directly ask Toph when talking about issues. Instead, Dave is very elusive when talking to Toph


• “I weigh my options carefully and, because I am a master of strategy, decide that the only way to get any information at all is to add as little as possible in the way of, say, ridicule to the conversation (page 299).”


-This “evasion” technique is seen throughout the book. This method ensures that Toph will open up to Dave. If Dave asks directly, Dave believes that Toph will not be as honest.

Part IX-Robert Urich says no.

Short Summary:

Dave and his fellow editors have come up with the idea of making fun celebrity obituaries by running a fake obituary for a living celebrity. Dave and his team contact several actors whose careers are on a down slide and can use that type of publicity, but none show interest until they contact Adam Rich. Adam Rich, who is on the show Eight is Enough, agrees to be killed off by the magazine. The magazine runs a full spread in the magazine, claimingRich has been murdered. Right away they begin to get response from television shows and other magazines, but are forced to admit the joke when they cannot prove their story. Adam’s friends and family are traumatized by the article, believing its claims until they see Adam face to face.

Information/Details from the text:

• Dave tries to understand why Toph is acting the way he is.

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-Throughout the story, we gradually see that Toph is behaving differently. This shows Toph’s inward conflict.


• “You like you’re pleading for help (page 322).”


-Dave is very worried about Toph. This is because Dave thinks that Toph doesn’t see himself as the normal kid.

Part X-Of course it’s cold.

Short Summary:

Dave returns to Chicago one December to attend the weddingof a school friend. While there Dave decides he will visit his childhood homeand the funeralparlour where his parents’bodies were processed before being donated to a local college. Dave imagines going to the college and talking to the professorin charge of the bodies, to ask what it was like when he cut into his mother’s stomach. Dave is obsessed with the image his imagination provides in answer to this question and he needs to know the real answer. Dave is staying with a couple of high school friends while he is in town. They spend the first night catching up on local gossip, talking about old classmates, especially Vince Vaughn, who has a budding acting career.

Information/Details from the text:

• Dave imagine the stone as being “eternal”

• Dave tells John what he dreamed about

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-The stone in this case is the imaginative quality. The stone is represented as being “eternal.”

-When Dave tells John his dream, this puts more emphasis to the theme of death.


• “A stone would save me, would salvage all the damage we had already done, all the things we had given up or lost (page 381).”

• “You know what’s funny, the thing I was most worried about when I was down there, in the South Side, driving around and talking into the tape recorder? I was worried that after I was shot near the lake, that the murderer, who really only wanted the car, would for some reason find and play the tape, the one where I’m describing my imagining someone like him killing me, and all this stuff about finding the box, and that this murderer would think I’m this racist weirdo- (page 387).”


-The stone is seen as being eternal. This can be contrasted with how Dave is feeling. Since the stone to Dave is eternal, Dave feels confused.

-This quote is proof that the theme is around death. Throughout the book, the death of his mother and father is seen. Dave probably dreams about this because he is not over his parents’ death.

Part XI-Black Sands Beach is only ten minutes from San Francisco.

Short Summary:

Dave and Toph are on the way to the beach. Toph is supposed to take a test that day to get into a private high school. Dave has to drag Beth to the office when he registered Toph to prove that their parentsare dead and Dave has custody. The whole thing is a big production. However, Dave decides that Toph does not need to take the test because he has decided they will move to New York. Dave is ready to be on his own with Toph, without Beth as a safety net. Mightmagazinehas lost its lease again and is running out of money. The editors have been rushing all over trying to find financial support, but have failed to drum up any interest. The magazine is finally done.

Information/Details from the text:

• Dave is worried about being caught taking care of Toph as a guardian

• Dave is sick of people pitying him and Toph

What is significant/Important about each piece of information:

-Since Dave is not technically Toph guardian, this creates conflict. This is because later on, when Toph has to take the city’s high school test, he is not allowed because Dave does not have proof that he is Toph’s guardian.

-Throughout the book Dave does not like it when others pity him. This reveals outward conflict.


• “This had come up before, the guardianship thing, the proof-where is this proof?-and always I had been afraid of being found out. All this time, a fraud (page 409).”

• “Whatever. I’m just another one of those people whose tragedies you felt fit into the overall message (page 432).”


-This quote reveals conflict because Dave does not have proof that he is Toph’s guardian, Toph cannot take the test.

-Dave emphasizes that he detests how people around him believe that he is suffering because he has to take care of Toph. This is how outward conflict is shown.


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